‘Shall I play for You
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum
On my drum, on my drum
I played my drum for Him
For You honoured me’
Little Drummer Boy, 1958, composed by Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone.
The dawn broke, and he heaved himself into the day. The slender figure in his bed let out a little sleepy moan, shuffled herself onto her side, and wrapped the extra duvet around her shoulder. He stood and the blood rushed down his body, blurring his vision briefly. He paused for a second, squeezing his eyes shut and rubbing his insistent erection.
He showered, rinsed mouthwash and spat it into the water as it drained down the plug hole. He contemplated having a shave as he wiped the mirror to remove the condensation and the ghostly ‘hi dad!!! ’ message left behind from the weekend. With a smile, he slapped his cheeks gently, and decided against the shave.
Once back in the bedroom, he flung open the curtains and laughed as the woman cursed the light and pulled a pillow over her head.
‘Fuckin hell, it’s stupidly early,’ she mumbled. ‘Bloody bastard.’
‘But it’s a lovely day, baby!’ he exclaimed, coughing.
Once dressed, he leaned down to kiss the pillow, grabbed his keys and shut the bedroom door a little too loudly.
‘Ta ta!!’ he called, as his smile faded.
A couple of hours later, after his housemates had left for work and the heating had clicked off, she sat up in bed, looking at the room that he’d hurriedly, obsessively, tidied the night before. There was no sign of the empty vodka bottle or pint glasses and straws, the ashtrays moved. The only indication that she’d been there was the small pile of neatly folded clothes on the chair. Taking a deep breath, she threw off the covers and searched for her knickers at the end of the bed.
It was his musician’s fingers that attracted her initially. They had met over a pint of cloudy cider, the kind that seemed to dissolve the muscles in her legs, but maybe that was just the effect he had on her. This first encounter at the bar after his gig, where she’d absorbed the music and kept her eye on him, left her wanting. And she danced to the beat of his drum, and smiled at the way his thick fingers grasped the drum sticks, arms curving in strength, head bent in concentration. Swaying her hips to the music, she knew those fingers could drive her wild.
Her own fingertips now tingled with the memory of touching his flesh, of reaching beneath the cotton and stroking his haunches, gently scratching down to the waistband of his shorts. It was only after several fucks that he had told her about his parents.
The day passed for him as each day usually did; gripping the tools and digging the earth, a rawness that seemed to run through his life like a vein. The occasional twitch in his dick was the only reminder of the long night before. He yawned.
The usual banter ensued, the workmen calling to each other across the yard, some of them in trucks, others wheeling barrows piled high with rubble, others, like him, thrusting machines deep into the soil that was thick with rocks.
In the moments of shuddering mechanical vibrations, he’s practice the harmonies for the rehearsal later that night. He wasn’t always aware of singing out loud, a habit that exposed him to much piss-taking in the yard. His music had consistently invited attention.
‘Hey, twat!’ a voice called from behind him. It was early afternoon, their lunchtime pints settling nicely in their stomachs. ‘Fag break!’ and as he turned, a Marlboro was thrown in his direction.
‘Alright, mate! Ta very much, don’t mind if I do.’ Deftly, he had caught it between two fingers.
They both sat on the flat back of one of the trucks, their heavy boot-clad feet swinging against the thick tyres, watching the secretary struggle up the Portakabin steps in her tight skirt.
‘So how’s you, mate?’ his friend asked. ‘How’s yer littl’uns?’
‘Ah, they’re cracking, mate, thanks. The oldest was at rehearsal at the weekend, he bloody loved it.’
‘So yer still in that band, then?’
‘Yeah, got a gig this Saturday, as it happens. Up for it?’ He flicked his cigarette into a puddle.
‘Yeah, should be, although have to keep the missus sweet for Sunday, yer know.’ He looked across, and continued. ‘Mother’s Day on Sunday, mate. How have yer missed that?’
‘Ha! Just the dumb fuck that I am, I guess,’ he replied, before jumping down from the truck and going back to his digging. His mate called after him, but he didn’t hear what was said.
She left the dishes drying on the side, wiped her hands on the tea towel and dropped her cigarette stub directly into the bin. One last glance around the kitchen, she picked up her hand bag, double checked for her toothbrush and mobile phone, and left his flat, almost holding her breath as she felt the click of the lock falling into place. She gazed up at the grey sky, and leaned back against the door.
His generosity had flattered her from the start. He’d greet her with a tight embrace that softened her body as she leaned right into him. He’d take her out for meals, and stock up the alcohol to see them through until dawn. He taught her some rhythms on the drums, and they’d strum guitars together, before laughing at the drifting punters in the street below who fell out of the pub at last orders. Laughter and sex would keep them awake. In the early hours once exhausted, they half- heartedly pleasured each other until cuddling into a drunken sleep.
And after the relentless fucking, then what? After the dawn broke and she realised she’d leaned in too far? During the long hours at work, and the long days in between his calls, he was on her mind. She knew there were moments when he lost himself in her eyes, but there was always that missing jigsaw piece left under the bed or swept beneath the carpet. Maybe he stepped on it and squeezed it between the treads in his trainers. That would be like him, taking away that last piece of pleasure for himself, closing the door. But maybe that door had been closed when he was 9. She guessed she’d never know.
A sharp intake of breath and she descended the steps towards her car.
His last memory of the full household began at the start of a spring morning. His brothers had woken him with their Scalextric and the inevitable raucous crashes off the end of the figure of eight and into the radiator. He swung his legs out of the bunk-bed, tugged his pyjama bottoms gently down so that they reached his ankles, and ruffled the youngest’s hair as he passed.
The felt tips and paper still lay on the kitchen table amidst unpaid bills and stinking empty cans of cider. Nothing much shifted in their house unless he attended to it, but most of the time the dog shit and cigarette butts were too much for him. After sniffing the carton of milk, he poured himself a glass and sat down. Under the pile of paper he’d hidden the half- finished card, a roughly folded A4 sheet, the picture on the front needing its final touches. With a milk- stained top lip and his tongue creeping out as he focused, the skinny boy with his matted hair chose the pink pen and finished colouring in the petals on the flowers.
Inside the card, he wrote heavily, almost pressing through the page, ‘Happy muthers Day, From me x’ and decorated the corners with more small flowers. As the morning ticked by, and the house stirred around him, he proceeded to make an envelope from an old drawing, before searching the kitchen drawers for sellotape to secure the card inside. He propped it up against the kettle before hearing his mother’s irregular footsteps on the stairs.
Later that day, after he’d been told to pack a small bag and the car outside kept its engine running and his younger brothers were snotty with crying, he spotted a bright piece of paper sticking out of the bin in the front room. The veins of the pink flowers were revealed through the creases and folds.
When she thought back to those glorious, painfully sweet and erotic nights, underlined as they were with the fierce but unfulfilled connection, she remembered the fast and insatiable fucking that left her breathless. In the end, she knew that every compliment, every stroke of his skin, every deep kiss, wouldn’t matter. Of course she forgave him; she forgave his distance, never knowing how far she could tread into his inner world, never sure how much to tell him. It became an unspoken transaction, this subtle exchange of love, expressed with a look, a tearful embrace, and the occasional late night text, an afterthought.